Coming Zune

There’s something so American about competition, that it doesn’t seem absurd for Microsoft, the largest company of its kind in history, to be an underdog in a scrap with Apple.

The digital music niche is all but owned by iTunes and the iPod. Microsoft has been a feeble player in this game. Their alternative to MP3, WMA, is a format most noteworthy for its restrictiveness, not technical superiority. Digital media players from Creative, Philips and others aren’t nearly as sexy as the iPod (which doesn’t work with WMA-only services like Napster and Rhapsody).

Their solution, not surprisingly, is to take Apple’s approach. Microsoft announced Zune the other day – a “brand,” due this November, that so far includes an iPod-killer portable music device and a download service to replace the listless MSN Music. It’s described as “one part MySpace, one part iTunes and one part Xbox Live,” so the buzz on web sites like Engaget and Gizmodo is that in addition to accessing digital music, the Zune might also play video games – “connected entertainment” in Microsoft parlance.

Ripping another page out of Apple’s playbook, there are rumored plans for Zune-enabled “smart phones,” continuing the long march to total digital convergence.

To sweeten the pot for iPod addicts (like yours truly), Microsoft is falling back on a technique they perfected with products like Outlook and Internet Explorer – giving away the store. Zune will scan your computer for songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store, and automatically grant a license for them on the new music player.

Of course, that doesn’t address the 95 percent or so of music on digital music on portable players that wasn’t bought online.

First looks at the Zune player are promising. The screen is at least 25 percent bigger, and it’s equipped with wireless integration that works not only with Microsoft but several other legal download sites. That’s quite gush-worthy.

Like the VHS/Beta video format wars of 20 years ago, consumers will be the ultimate winners in this fight. For the moment, Apple is the leader, and it’s going to take more than a bigger screen to change that. This particular competition is more like the battle between cable and satellite television, an incremental one that’s ultimately allowed more people to enjoy previously unavailable entertainment, and more cheaply besides.

I can hardly wait to see what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve in response.

Here’s what’s cooking this weekend:

Thursday: Meetinghouse Readings, Canaan – This is a change of pace recommendation. There’s no music involved, unless you count the cadence of beautiful words. Built in 1793, the Meetinghouse exudes a civilizing force. Over the years, writers like John Griesemer, Chris Bohjalian and Alice Munro have taken listeners to beautiful imaginary worlds. Tonight, NH Poet Laureate Patricia Fargnoli and memoirist Mary Childers read from their work. It’s free, as well.

Friday: Carey Lee Rush, Bistro Nouveau – Long on the local music scene, going back to the original lineup of Last Kid Picked, Carey makes his Bistro debut tonight. He’s played with everybody everywhere it seems, but these days he’s trucking around town as a “one man blues band.” With any luck, the weather will cooperate. Last Saturday, Pete Merrigan had to take the show indoors after the deluge closed the new patio.

Saturday: Incognito, Claremont First Congregational Church – A benefit show in the church sanctuary to raise money for new hand bells (you’d be amazed at how much they cost). Incognito is a group of local guys who play for the love of music, everything from Pink Floyd (the mellower stuff in church, I presume) to Fleetwood Mac.

Sunday: Lowell Folk Festival Day 3 – This is the 20th incarnation of the free festival, begun in 1987. Today, Peruvian masters Inca Son perform, along with the Bullock Brothers, the jazzy Hot 8 Brass Band, Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys and others. It starts at noon, running on four stages until 6 PM.

Monday: Blue Monday, Salt Hill Pub – The latest innovation from this music-friendly bar is a series of blues sessions, with three bands sharing a weekly rotation, Larry Dougher, Mike Benoit, and tonight Have Blues Will Travel. Unlike Tuesdays and Thursdays, this isn’t an open mike or jam session, just solid blues played on a day that’s perfect for it, when you think of it.

Tuesday: Kim Richey, Iron Horse – There are a handful of female performers out there who defy classification, but demand to be heard. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin … and Kim Richey, probably the most underrated of the bunch. She’s known in country circles for writing Radney Foster’s “Nobody Wins” and Trisha Yearwood’s “Believe Me Baby (I Lied).” But it’s her more esoteric work that I love – moody little vignettes like “Girl In a Car,” “No Judges,” and the should-have-been-a-hit “I Know.”

A Whale of A Good Time for Local Music Fans

Plans for the biggest gathering of area bands in recent memory are coalescing nicely, says “Rock The Whale” organizer Steve Smith.

“It’s like this frantic slow pace of making sure everything’s in order, “ Smith reports on preparations for the all-day August 5 show at the Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, “but the word on the street is really huge.”

Some of the buzz came from a contest to choose the final performing slot on the show.  The Bradford, Vermont-based Denton Affair won by handing out over 1,000 leaflets at their shows, and urging fans to vote for them on their MySpace site.

“I was really impressed with these guys, they blew me away,” says Smith, adding that he was also pleased to add a punk band to the show.  “They remind a bit of Bouncing Souls – it’s a different genre we didn’t have on the bill.”

“I feel bad for the bands that didn’t make it in,” he added, “because I always get emotionally attached to them.  I’d like everybody to come.”

Overall, there’s an eclectic mix of music for the show.   Curst, from Bellows Falls, plays multiple guitar, melodic hard rock influenced by Motley Crüe and Black Label Society.  The recently re-formed Spectris, which includes founding members Chris Bergmann and Todd Westfall along with a new bassist, recall Yes, Pink Floyd and others from the progressive band era.

Power rockers Stonewall anticipate a high-energy afternoon.  “It’s the biggest local music event of the year,” says bandleader Josh Parker.  Stonewall cites Primus and Stone Temple Pilots as influences, but they also recall power trios from the classic rock era like Mountain, Gun and Cactus.

Stevens High graduate and Rock 93.9/101.7 air personality Matt Cross will perform with two bands – StandStill, a rock trio in the vein of Pearl Jam and Staind, and Snox & the Voodoo Henchmen, a project that he and fellow DJ Steve Smith play mostly for laughs on songs like “Shannon Burned the Cookies.”

Bands with a harder edge make up a large portion of the lineup.  The show starts at 11:30 with Undying Breed, a take-no-prisoners outfit who cite Pantera and Killswitch Engage as influences.  Hitchelfit and Sarvela are also on hand.

Hexerei, with a polished metal-with-a-message sound, headlines the show.  The band should be in top form after a recent tour, as they prepare for a big show the following weekend – Locobazooka, where they’ll share the Tweeter Center stage with Alice in Chains and several other bands.

“Rock the Whale” is the creation of Rock 93.9/101.7 Program Director Smith.  Until late last year, the station’s evening spotlight, “Local Licks,” showcased area bands.  With that gone, an all-day show seemed the perfect choice to, in Smith’s words, “give back to the local music community.”

“I’m excited to bring the community together and do something,” he says, “for the bands and for the area.  Just to have a huge concert is really decent.”

The U.S. Army is co-sponsoring the event, bringing a climbing wall and a Hummer simulator for music fans to try.   There’s also a BMX bike demo, and Green Bandit Productions, a group of skiers and snowboarders from Rutland who film their activities and set them to hardcore rap, will show some of their latest video projects.

“The whole thing has a very X-Games feel to it,” says Smith.

Whaleback will offer food and beverages, including a beer tent, for concertgoers.  Most of the bands will also be selling merchandise and CDs.

Finally, a guitar, donated by Soundtown Music and signed by all the performers, will be auctioned off, with the proceeds used to buy phone calling cards for troops stationed in Iraq.  “It costs a fortune to call home,” says Smith, “we like to support them any way we can.”

Tickets for the Rock the Whale are $15 and can be ordered on the station’s website, http://www.wvrrfm.com, or purchased locally at Rick’s Tattoo in Kelleyville, Soundtown Music in Lebanon or on Thursday through Sunday nights at Whaleback Ski Area.

If You’re Going:

What: Rock The Whale All-Day Local Music Festival
When: August 5, 2006 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
Tickets: $15.00
Where: Whaleback Ski Area, Enfield, NH

Band Line-Up:

Hexerei
Stonewall
Dollface
Sarvela
Spectris
StandStill
The Denton Affair
Hitchelfit
Curst
Undying Breed
Snox & The Voodoo Henchmen

This Gadget Pushes All My Buttons

The holy grail of tech nuts everywhere – the all-in-one device – got a bit closer this week.    RadioIO (pronounced “radio eye oh”) is one of the earliest Internet radio services, and currently sports an eclectic array of niche channels, everything from an all-Grateful Dead station to “Rock,” whose generic moniker might shock boomers unprepared for its mix of Broken Social Scene, Rilo Kiley, Snow Patrol and the English Beat.

That’s cool enough so far.  But the big news is IO2Go, the company’s latest offering, which streams Internet radio to certain so-called “smart phones.”  All it takes is a web-enabled cell phone, like a Treo or a RAZR, to enjoy great music.  It’s in beta, but IO2Go works like a champ on my Treo 650.

For the moment, it’s a free service.  Be warned, though – RadioIO’s ad-supported website is stuffed with the sort of cheesy pop-up come-ons you’d happily pay to make disappear, and commercials interrupt the webcasts every 20 minutes or so.  For five bucks a month you can buy a pitch-insulating “Sound Pass” – it’s not 100 percent effective, however.

But the music is sublime.  In 1982, I worked for KFAT, an FM station in Gilroy, California that played a then-unprecedented hybrid of country and rock.  On a given night, my air shift might include George Jones, Woody Guthrie and Elvis Costello, with Utah Phillips’ “Moose Turd Pie” thrown in for comic relief.

Listening to “RadioIO Country” brought back those days, with Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” Gretchen Wilson’s cover of the Kris Kristofferson gem “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Lubbock It Or Leave It,” a sweaty rave-up from the Dixie Chicks’ latest, all keeping perfect company there.

All of RadioIO’s stations apparently share the essential ingredient for good Internet radio – good lawyers.  I assume that’s the case, given the number of big names on their pop playlists.  Even the Beatles, though bands like Big Star, Sweet Thursday and Caravan tend to get me more excited.

You don’t need a phone to listen, either, just an Internet connection.  But to me, the notion of the cell phone I already use to surf the web, track meetings, grab email and instant message becoming my iPod is bliss defined.

I admit that I’m an extreme example, thoroughly seduced by technology, right down to the Bluetooth bug in my ear.  But 15 years ago, everyone told me no one cared about the Internet, and that e-mail was for geeks.  Look how wrong they were then.

Onward to music – what’s happening in the next few days?

Thursday:  Dave Mallett, Colburn Park – One of Maine’s finest folksingers plays a free show on the Lebanon common. Everyone from Emmylou Harris to the Muppets have covered Mallett’s songs.  He does his own work best, though, with a baritone voice that’s equal parts soothing and sad.  The well-traveled “Garden Song” is just about an American classic.  Sing with me – “inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow.”

Friday:  Spiral Farm Band, Sophie & Zeke’s – After an epiphany at a Bela Fleck concert, soft rock fan Peter Dane-Dickenson became a bluegrass convert.   His band channels “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with purity and reverence, performing around a single microphone and trading leads with aplomb, like a polite Southern family passing the black-eyed peas.  This is honest, pure music.

Saturday: Tom Pirozzoli & Gerry Putnam, Flanders Stage – Pirozzoli reminds me of Gordon Lightfoot without the morose overtones.  He co-wrote the raucous “Jesus on the Grille” with Willy Porter, about a truck driver’s divine highway vision, so he knows how to have fun.  He’s also a talented guitarist, and tonight he performs a free show in Sunapee Harbor with sound engineer Putnam.

Sunday: Dave DiLorenzo, Court House – I finally had a chance to check out this downtown Newport restaurant.  It combines the charm of a B&B with the elegance of a multi-starred bistro.  The Sunday brunch, with young DiLorenzo’s subtle, capable piano playing as a backdrop, is terrific.  For more upscale dining, try the 5-course Italian dinner, complete with wine pairings tonight (Thursday).

Tuesday: Dickey Betts & Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Hampton Beach Casino – The old and new order of blues-rock share the stage.  Betts parted ways with the Allman Brothers Band (the second, and apparently final time); his “Ramblin’ Man” was recently named the second greatest Southern rock song of all time by CMT.  Shepherd studied at the feet of Stevie Ray Vaughn and carries on his blues tradition.

Wednesday: Tammy Jackson, Sunapee Ben Mere Bandstand – Pure country from a local favorite, and a free show at that.  They’ve opened shows for Alan Jackson (no relation), Charlie Daniels and others; their set list includes favorites from those artists.  TJB originals tend towards ballads in the Patsy Cline vein – “Like I’m Cryin’ Now” is a particular standout.

Boundary-Hopping Twiddle Lands at Salt Hill

For all their youth, Twiddle has assimilated a lot of music.  Though they’ll be entertaining bar patrons at Lebanon’s Salt Hill Pub tomorrow night, it will be two years before any of them can order a drink.

But the four-piece band, based in Hubbardton, Vermont, is musically wise beyond their years.

Twiddle draws from a stylistic palette of jazz-fusion and booty-shaking funk, with spice thrown in from across the spectrum.  Versatile guitarist Mihali “Mickey” Savoulidis’s playing references everyone from George Clinton to Jerry Garcia, though the easiest comparisons are the ones best avoided.

“We often get compared to Phish, which we hate,” drummer Brook Jordan told a journalist recently.   But Twiddle could do worse, and the parallels are there for anyone to see.  The four met in college, and like Phish, they try to juggle musical and academic goals.  They share a house together, and spend much of their waking hours working out arrangements; they’re proud that two shows rarely sound the same.

But the jam band persona is deceiving.  Though songs like “Zazu’s Flight” and “King Gatsby the Great” have an improvisational, free form feel, the band works out every note with an exacting detail.  The results are more Weather Report (the band) than “Weather Report Suite” (the Grateful Dead song).

Their hopes for success have received a lot of encouragement of late.  Twiddle’s steadily growing fan base nabbed them multiple return engagements at South Burlington’s Higher Ground club.  They’re holding down a near-residency at the Sidelines Club in Rutland, where they recently became only the third band to charge an entry fee.    Last weekend, they “blew away” the main stage audience at last weekend’s SolarFest show, according to manager Neil Jordan, who’s also the drummer’s father.  They’re also set to open for the Gin Blossoms at Rutland’s Paramount in early October.

Guitarist Savoulidi and keyboard player Ryan Dempsey met their first day at Castleton College.  In a sign of things to come, they skipped orientation that day to jam, and formed the beginnings of a band when school started.  Bassist Billy Comstock came along when he and Savoulidi worked together in a Castleton production of “Hair.” Drummer Brook Jordan knew Comstock from high school; both attended the Stafford Technical Center’s Jazz and Contemporary Music Program.

The band’s chemistry solidified with surprising speed, and after 18 months together, a comfortable, crowd-pleasing “Twiddle Sound” has pleased audiences throughout the region.  Summer park shows, recently in Rutland, and upcoming in Manchester and Bennington, are now a regular part of their schedule.  That’s quite notable for an original band, particular one with the adventurous leanings of Twiddle, but their music plays to all age groups, says manager Neil Jordan.

At Salt Hill, they’ll play songs from the recently released “Queen City Live,” recorded in and around Burlington.  They do a few covers; one of the more interesting ones is a reworking of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” with Dempsey’s keyboard substituting for the original’s acoustic guitar.

Their website, twiddlemusic.com, debuted recently.  Curious fans can go there to check out Twiddle’s unique brand of hyphenated, caffeinated modern music.  Their Salt Hill set begins at 9 PM.

Local Rhythms – Radio Bob

Born in 1956, the year Elvis Presley went nationwide; Bob Rivers’ life has spanned the arc of rock-era radio.  Legend has it that, barely a teenager, he built a 5-watt transmitter in his basement.  In his twenties, he worked at just about every station in the Northeast, ending up a huge success at WAAF-FM in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Bob was a national star in his thirties, with hit records and People magazine stories about his antics in Baltimore, and later Seattle.  He’s been the toast of that town for nearly 20 years, and with good reason.  In an era of shock radio, he’s funny without being vulgar.  His “Twisted Tunes” franchise is frighteningly prolific, with hilarious seasonal send-ups like “I Am Santa Claus” (done to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”) and “White Trash Christmas.”

At Bob’s 50th birthday celebration this weekend in Ascutney, we’ll recall his personal and professional triumphs.  Someone will undoubtedly roll out his Tom Petty remake, “You Don’t Know How It Feels (To Be Old).”  They’ll wonder if the line, “let me get a tube of ointment/let’s rub my achy joints,” seems less a parody than when he wrote it 10 years ago.

I’ll remember him as the man who brought me to Claremont, gave me a full-time radio job, and introduced me to my future wife.

He downplays his Program Director stint at M-106 (now Q-106) as the culmination of a successful campaign “to make every mistake possible” in the business.  Bob also (falsely) claims to be a management washout; he saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

On election night 1980, I had the inspiration to play “Show Biz Kids” by Steely Dan during my six to midnight air shift.  Ten seconds into the track, Bob called, telling me to fade it down early.  Not that he was a newly minted Reaganite – I’d forgotten the F-bomb in the final verse.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that a career in radio fed an ego better than a family.  This was partly due to the fact that the station’s money guy viewed the talent the way Barnum & Bailey does their elephants.

I received no severance pay until Bob intervened on my behalf with a few thinly veiled “suggestions” for his then-former boss.  I never learned the exact details (something about plausible deniability), but he proved himself a good friend and a creative manager that day.

It’s reassuring when a nice guy like Bob Rivers finishes on top.   What’s tops in terms of choices this weekend?

Thursday:  The Gully Boyz, Middle Earth Music Hall – The latest of several local bands, including Conniption Fits and Dr. Burma, to get a serious listen in this friendly room, located in Bradford, Vermont.  Well regarded for their layered jam band approach, they have a solid following in the Upper Valley.  It’s nice to see them moving up in the world.

Friday:  Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – He’s back from Florida, and ubiquitous as ever.  During his Murphy’s Deck Sunday, Pete was a one-man “Cheers” – he knows everybody’s name.  It’s an amazing thing to watch.  Tonight, he’ll play his first set in downtown Claremont in many moons.  Lots of boat drinks and sing-along songs will ensue.  Nothing says “summer” like Pete Merrigan.

Saturday:  Jay Ungar & Molly Malone, Windsor High School – A popular NPR favorite, this folk duo hosts a swing dance as part of Windsor’s Vermont Heritage Days celebration.   Tightly linked with Ken Burns’ “Civil War” miniseries (their “Ashokoan Farewell” was featured on the Grammy-winning soundtrack), they’re as real and honest as Americana gets.

Sunday: Basin Bluegrass Festival (Brandon, VT) – Day three of this down-home gathering features a who’s who of regional pickers, including Blistered Fingers, the Pine Hill Ramblers and Cabin Fever.  A short day today, running from 9 AM to 3 in the afternoon.  Friday and Saturday’s performances last from early in the morning to 10 PM.  Aspiring players can bring a banjo or fiddle for the workshops.

Tuesday: Ani DiFranco, Pines Theatre – The queen of DIY has a new record, “Reprieve,” due next month.  Two advance tracks – “hypnotized” and “half-assed”  -suggest the romantic smackdown attitude of her earlier work has mellowed a bit.   Maybe that’s because she started work on it last fall in New Orleans, but had to finish elsewhere when Katrina washed the studio away.

Wednesday: The Flames, Sunapee Harbor – A four-piece led by local stalwart John Lovejoy on keyboards and vocals.  They sounded quite polished at Claremont’s 4th of July bash, with searing saxophone solos and smooth three part harmonies for songs as varied as “Not Fade Away” (the chugging Grateful Dead version) and a fine little Motown medley right before the fireworks.  This show is part of the regular Wednesday night series at the Ben Mare Pavilion.

Local Rhythms – Look Up, America – It’s Our Birthday

I love the Fourth of July more than any other holiday. It’s not
religious like Christmas, vague like Thanksgiving (thankful for what –
everything? Be specific) or the ephemeral day of convenience Memorial
Day became when we began to lose sight of its’ original intent.

No, Indpendence Day celebrates something everyone agrees about – it’s
great to be an American in America. OK, there are perhaps 260 million
versions of that sentiment, but for one day, we set those differences
aside. We choose a beverage, stare up at the sky, and wait for the
fireworks.

Winston Churchill once said, “democracy is the worst form of
government – except for all those others that have been tried.” Of
course, he also said, “the best argument against democracy is a
five-minute conversation with the average voter.” The miracle we
celebrate every July is that this undeniable, inchoate internal
squabble has characterized and sustained the grand American experiment
for 230 years, not destroyed it.

I heard a song a few weeks back, a typically great fade-out from a
“Sopranos” episode, that hit me like a comet. I ran to my computer to
track it down. “The Fourth of July” is a Dave Alvin song, but the
version I heard was by X, America’s greatest punk band. It’s about a
relationship that clearly holds more memories than magic, and is
probably doomed – done in by confusion, not the dying flame of desire.
“She gives me her cheek when I want her lips,” laments the singer.

But sitting on his porch and looking up at the night sky, he finds his
resolve. “Whatever happened, I apologize,” he calls to her. “So dry
your tears and baby, take a walk outside – it’s the Fourth of July.”

Whatever our differences, together on this day we turn our eyes
upward, all staring at the same thing.

Happy Birthday, U.S.A.

This year, we’re blessed with a four day weekend, filled with music
and (I’m keeping my fingers crossed) sunshine.

Thursday: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Dartmouth College – Born of swing
sensitibilities, but infused with the breathless gonzo humor of bands
like Oingo Boingo. Their execution of perennials like “Minnie the
Moocher” and “Big Time Operator” is dead-on. But just when you think
you’ve got them pegged right down to their pants, they take something
like “I Wanna Be Just Like You” from the “Jungle Book” and spin it
into gold. “You and Me (and the Bottle Makes Three)” is the greatest
good-time going to hell song ever recorded.

Friday: Take Your Pick in Claremont – One of those rare times when I
can’t make up my mind. You’ll likely see me in three places tonight.
First, Bistro Nouveau christens their new patio with local reggae
favorites Saylyn, along with a special outdoor menu featuring plenty
of finger food. After that, it’s off to Sophie & Zeke’s for Josh
Parker’s “Stonewall Unplugged” set. Later, I’ll wrap things up at the
Hullabaloo Martini Bar with Dave Davis. Claremont – I’m lovin’ it!

Saturday: Drunk Stuntmen, Heritage Tavern – A child-friendly barbeque
starting at 5 PM, with outdoor music from a fun-loving band. The
Stuntmen recently received a cool honor – induction into WRSI-FM’s
Hall of Fame. They’re one of 250 bands “who have made the station
what it is,” according to Program Director Johnny Memphis. More
commonly known as “The River,” WRSI is the only reason I turn off XM
while driving through western Massachusetts.

Sunday: Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Hidene Meadowlands – I’m going to
Tivo the Boston Pops Esplanade Fourth, just to see what kind of
mischief Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry get into. But if
you’d like to see the 1812 Overture, cannons and all, without the
trafficand crowds, head to Manchester, Vermont (or Ascutney,
Middlebury or Shelburne, and a few others in the next six days) and
enjoy a patriotic display of fireworks and classical music.

Monday: 35th Parallel, Colburn Park – Interesting free stuff. The two
man group calls its music “MediterrAsian,” a blend of Middle East,
North India, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the United States.
Playing a lot of percussion instruments you’ve likely never heard of,
and weaving electronic sounds with bazouki, dijeridoo and old
fashioned guitar, it’s a unique, heady excursion.

Tuesday: Wings & Wheels, Hartness State Airport – There are a number
of local celebrations, but I like this one for sentimental reasons.
It marks the final area appearance, for a while anyway, of Ingrid’s
Ruse. What a shame – as their “Roots of the River” set proved, the
band was really finding their groove. Fortunately, they’re making a
record as a parting gift to area fans, and Ingrid Ayer-Richardson
isn’t ruling out a release party show later this summer. This gala
also includes Stonewall, Broken Mindz, fireworks, and a $100 a ticket
2006 Corvette raffle.

Giving Back at Whaleback

It’s been on Steve Smith’s mind for a long time – an outdoor concert,
featuring some of the area’s best bands, free from noise ordinances
and time constraints. On August 5, it will happen, when “Rock the
Whale” becomes a reality.

“I have this dream,” says the Rock 93.9/101.7 Program Director, “of
people driving by on Interstate 89 and seeing a see of black shirts
and tatoos.” Whether they slow down out of curiosity or speed up in
fear, they will appreciate the message.

The local area has a vibrant music scene, and August 5 is their day.

“Nobody does anything for music in the community,” he says. ” I
wanted to give back and showcase what we’ve got.”

With “the perfect symmetry” of last year’s Whaleback Ski Area
re-opening, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place – securing a
venue. With that taken care of, Smith assembled a who’s who of his
nightly “Local Licks” feature, including Hexerei, Stonewall, Curst,
Sarvela, Undying Breed and Hitchelfit. Fellow DJ Matt Cross’s band
StandStill will appear, as well as Dollface, and the mysterious Snox
and the Voodoo Henchmen, a band “that might as well be headlining,
they’re that good,” according to Smith.

Actually, Snox et.al.is Cross and Smith’s own group, a fun project
that will entertain fans during set changes. Still, the next big
thing may really be out there. A Fan Favorite band will be selected
from entries to the radio station’s web site, wvrrfm.com. Fans can
vote, and the winner earns Rock the Whale’s coveted final slot. Smith
recently took a week off, and on his return, he already had three Fan Favorite entries. Interested bands have until July 7 to enter.

The work of planning the festival plan has Smith “excited, nervous,
scared and stoked. There’s so much involved,” he says. The U.S. Army
is helping out by co-sponsoring the event. Smith hopes they provide
something special for families of troops and the troops themselves. .
“I don’t know what they’ll bring, but hopefuly some of the fun stuff,”
like climbing walls and simulation games.

With over a month to go, the show is “still a work in progress,” says
Smith. He envisions a summer day filled with variety, “not just a
music festival.” Tickets aren’t priced yet, but they are expected to
be reasonable, “in the 15 dollar range.” Plans also include food,
beer, and other interesting vendors. Area businesses interested in
showcasing their wares and looking to run a booth at Rock the Whale
should contact the radio station by telephone or email.

But above all, there will be rock, from noon until well after dark,
played loud and proud.

As he scurries to put details in place, Smith tries not to think about
the recent soggy weather. When he does, he’s optimistic. “The good
thing about rock is if it rains, nobody cares,” he says. “Woodstock
’94 was legendary, and it was a great big mudfest.”